The Florida Supreme Court has upheld Gov. Ron DeSantis’ suspension of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for alleged incompetence following mass shootings at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The ruling came Tuesday, a week to the day after the justices approved DeSantis’ removal of another local official – Okaloosa County School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson. Jackson was removed for alleged negligence involving child abuse complaints – a ruling the court referenced in deciding the Israel case.
When DeSantis dismissed Sheriff Israel, Israel contested the firing and that’s how the case landed before the Supreme Court.
The ruling “leaves no doubt of my authority as Governor to suspend a government official for neglect of duty and incompetence,” DeSantis said in a press release.
“Scott Israel failed in his duties to protect the families and students of Broward County and the time for delay tactics is at an end. I look forward to the Florida Senate resuming the process of formal removal.”
The courts have only a limited role in reviewing a governor’s suspension order against state or local officials, the high court said – and that is “to determine whether [it] contains allegations that bear some reasonable relation to the charge made against the officer.”
Otherwise, the Florida Constitution “itself has set up its own special court to try the matter, namely the state Senate.”
Israel now faces proceedings in the Senate. Senate President Bill Galvano had placed Israel’s proceedings on hold pending the outcome of the Supreme Court litigation, but ordered them restarted in light of Tuesday’s ruling.
“It remains my intention to handle these issues as expeditiously as possible. I will continue to update you as these cases progress,” Galvano said in a letter to members of the Senate.
Dudley Goodlette, a former House member from Naples, is overseeing the Senate investigations in both Israel’s and Jackson’s cases. He has scheduled a hearing for Jackson to begin on May 28.
In acting against the sheriff, the governor complained of “neglect of duty and incompetence,” including Israel’s failure to train deputies to respond to mass shootings.
DeSantis appointed Gregory Tony, formerly a police sergeant in Coral Springs, to replace Israel.
Justice Barbara Lagoa, one of DeSantis’ three appointments to the high court, wrote the 6-1 ruling. Justice Carlos Muñiz, another DeSantis appointee, wrote separately to argue that Israel took too narrow a view of his duties.
“Of course, Israel is free to dispute the merits of the suspension order’s factual allegations and to argue about the proper role of a governor in supervising local officials. But the appropriate forum for those debates is the Senate,” he wrote.
Justice Jorge Labarga – a holdover from the pre-DeSantis, liberal-leaning high court – said he agreed with the outcome.
But he emphasized that “executive orders suspending officials [under the constitution] must allege specific, detailed facts which support and allow for meaningful review by the Senate. This requirement, in my view, is of paramount importance when the official in question was duly elected by the voters.”